didn't use/used to

Discussion in 'Spanish-English Grammar / Gramática Español-Inglés' started by neal41, Dec 29, 2011.

  1. neal41 Senior Member

    Houston, Texas, USA
    USA, English
    :warn:Atención: Escindido del hilo No tenías el pelo corto cuando ibas/fuiste a la...:warn:

    Se escribe 'used to'.

    I used to eat oatmeal every morning.
    I didn't used to eat oatmeal every morning, but now I do.

    Some English dialects have an impoverished repertoire of modal verbs and constructions like 'didn't used to' are not used.
    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 3, 2012
  2. RagsToRich Senior Member

    English - British
    Thanks everyone that's great.

    Hi Neal,

    I'm an English teacher and strictly it's "didn't use to" because the auxiliary verb "did" represents the conjugation and the infinitive must be used after that. I think that "didn't used to" is acceptable, but strictly with the question and the negation it should be wrote and said "use to".

    "You used to go there."
    "Did you use to go there?"
    "You didn't use to go there."

    This is what we teach for the Cambridge certifications.
  3. inib

    inib Senior Member

    La Rioja, Spain
    British English
    I go along with that, because it's what I've always used (not a good argument, I know), the only thing I've ever read in any of the grammar books I possess, and because it is logical that, like any other verb, after "did" we should use the infinitive. However, I must add that I have seen many discussions about this on WR, and some of the defenders of "didn't used to" were able to provide quotes from grammar books which considered it an option. (I wish I could find the threads now).
    Having said that, my vote still goes for "didn't use to".
  4. neal41 Senior Member

    Houston, Texas, USA
    USA, English
    My statement about "impoverished repertoire" was made partly in jest. I am referring to sentences like

    I didn't used to eat so much.
    I used to could run 20 miles a day, but I can't anymore.
    I didn't used to could do this, but now I can.
    I might could help you if you would ask politely.
    I might should visit them today, but I'm not sure.

    All of these sentences are normal in my dialect. I am guessing that you don't teach any of these constructions for the Cambridge certifications. Am I right? The Oxford English Grammar refers to 'used to' as a marginal modal and states that in standard dialects two modals cannot co-occur although in certain non-standard dialects they do co-occur. Modals (can, could, might, may, must, etc.) have only one form; they don't have principal parts like ordinary verbs. 'used to' is not the past tense of 'use'. The past tense form of 'use', as in "I used a lot of soap to get his neck clean." is pronounced differently ([yuzd]) from 'used to' ([yust]). It is mostly the invariable form of modals that leads to say that 'd' should be present in "We didn't used to buy such things."

    The Oxford English Grammar does say that 'use to' is a variant spelling.
  5. gengo

    gengo Senior Member

    There is no real consensus among grammarians in the debate over "didn't use to" versus "didn't used to." However, there is a substitute that pleases everyone: never used to. You can use this in place of the others in all contexts, and it is always correct.
  6. Peterdg

    Peterdg Senior Member

    Dutch - Belgium
    And Thompson and Martinet (Oxford University press) say it's wrong:

    The underlining is mine.
  7. gengo

    gengo Senior Member

    Talking about the pronunciation is a red herring, in my opinion. Some people say "yoose-to" because it's easier that way, and some people say "yoozed-to." And some people (including me) say both, at different times, with no distinction in meaning.

    I personally think of "used to" as an idiomatic usage of the verb to use, and therefore conjugate it normally, but I can also see the other side of the argument. Using "never," as I mentioned above, eliminates any problem, though.
  8. neal41 Senior Member

    Houston, Texas, USA
    USA, English
    To a linguist the pronunciation has relevance. Divide the English speaking world into 2 groups A and B. In group A we put everyone who says [yus tu] and in group B we put everyone who says [yuz to]. I'm in group A. I didn't know that group B existed, but you learn something new every day. Then we try to determine if people in group A have a verb such as I described. If they don't, then it seems unlikely that for them 'used to' is past tense. We ask the same question relative to group B. There the answer is yes. The verb is 'to use'. Then we ask a second question. Is the meaning of 'used to', as in "I used to watch TV every day", related to any of the meanings of the ordinary verb 'to use'. If the answer is no, then the linguist will not look favorably on a model which says that 'used to' in "I used to watch TV" is the past tense of 'to use'. In the case of group A, it is not necessary to ask the second question, because there is no verb to ask it relative to.

    If at all possible the linguist would like to have a model that is applicable to both groups.
  9. gengo

    gengo Senior Member

    I don't see the logic there. Why must the different meanings of a verb be related to each other? Sometimes words acquire very distinct and unrelated meanings. Furthermore, while I don't pretend to know how "used to" came to have the meaning of a habitual past action, I can easily imagine a scenario such as "I used my time back then to xxx," which is shortened through frequent use.

    Since grammarians don't all agree on this, it is unlikely that you and I will, either, so I vote for both of us to keep doing as we have always done.
  10. Davantage New Member

    English, North America
    This is very late, but for anyone curious (like me) looking this up:

    We all agree that, at least in colloquial speech, "used to" is grammatically acceptable, as in "I used to ..."
    Naturally, when we use the auxiliary "do" with a verb, the verb takes bare form: "You ate candy. / Did you eat candy?"
    So the natural thing to do is to put "used to" in bare form.
    For some English speakers (including myself), the "d" is, as in "use/used", a past tense marker.
    So I strip the "d" when using it with "did": "Did you use to ... ?" / "I didn't use to ..."
    That is, in my grammar, "Did you used to?" is as ungrammatical as "Did you ate?"

    Two relevant things in linguistics were brought up:
    First, the idea that that the tense should be invariable because it is a modal. If we want to say it's a modal, we have two problems: one, that it appears to have a past tense marker, and two, the fact that it occurs after the auxiliary "do". Both ought to be impossible for modals.
    Two, the voicing of the "s" to a [z] in "use" doesn't have much to do with it, except to differentiate it from the simple verb "use". To me, this shows that "use to" really is quite a strong unit, since the voiceless feature of the "t" regressively assimilates. This immediately makes me think of "have to", as in "I have to go"; the "v" is voiceless in this construction. As it happens, this parallel is actually quite illuminating: consider that "have to" receives tense, as in "I had to go" and similar sentences. So it is not surprising that a construction like "use to" is also tensed.

    Incidentally, this regressive assimilation might also account for why some people consider "used to" grammatical at all. Because the "d" in "used to" is assimilated to a "t", the pronunciation of either option is much the same, and highly ambiguous...
  11. Sherlockat

    Sherlockat Senior Member

    Castilian (Patagonian)
    An interesting point of view, but looking up in my Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary, says:

    used to
    Except in negatives and questions, the correct form is used to: I used to go there every Saturday.ÇI use to go there every Saturday.
    To form questions, use did: Did she use to have long hair? Note that the correct spelling is use to, not ‘used to’.
    The negative form is usually didn’t use to, but in BrE this is quite informal and is not usually used in writing.
    The negative form used not to (rather formal) and the question form used you to…? (old-fashioned and very formal) are only used in BrE, usually in writing.
  12. Davantage New Member

    English, North America
    Oh, indeed—either way, "didn't use to" or "didn't used to", the negation with "did " is quite informal. It is a bit ironic to be deciding which of these colloquial constructions is prescriptively correct! ;)

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